The West appears in a hurry to dismiss Daesh, the brutal terrorist organisation that controlled large swathes of Syria and Iraq from 2014-2017, but there’s fresh trouble brewing from the group and its affiliates in Africa. Some weeks ago, the UAE had warned the UN of a resurgence of Daesh and the rapid spread of its ideology after a lull of five years.
What’s causing this revival of the group’s brand of terror from Africa? Answers are not hard to find. The pandemic has worsened economic conditions; food is in short supply, and with failed states on the rise, the dreaded terror group is sensing opportunities, and vacuums to fill by going local with specific plans for different regions.
The Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC) which tracks extremist and hate groups online, said Africa is the main area of Daesh’s expansion. Nigeria, in particular, is a major concern. “Abuja is surrounded on four sides - TRAC has been predicting a dire situation for a year, yet the group keeps expanding in Nigeria including the Federal Capital Territory,” said Veryan Khan, president and CEO of the Consortium.
She said some extremist ideologues and commanders had traveled from Syria to Marte, Borno State, Nigeria to advise Daesh. There is also heightened terror activity in Mali. “Something big is going to happen across Africa’s belt. And Daesh in Egypt is advancing on the Suez Canal - that should be a global concern,’’ she said.
Africa could be the ‘future of the caliphate’ if the world continues to look the other way, warned Martin Ewi of the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa’s capital Pretoria in a recent speech to the UN. He said 20 countries are “directly experiencing” the group’s activity. The modus operandi of the group is different from Iraq and Syria where mercenaries ran wild. Daesh now recruits at the grassroots in Africa as it reinvents itself. The messaging is in local languages and dialects which experts find hard to decipher. It is also frustrating for analysts because these are considered “low resource” languages in the sense that there are few translations, no online translation tools, and few grammar and sketches of the languages to reference, explained Veryan.
For example, the group released a recruitment video for Daesh Somalia (Abnaa ul-Calipha) that was narrated entirely in the majority language in Ethiopia, Amharic. While many Ethiopians may be bilingual in Arabic and Amharic, the video likely targets the transnational Amhara ethnolinguistic community which is largely centered in north-western Ethiopia but dips into eastern Sudan and southern Eritrea.
The killing of Abu Bakr Al Baghdad by US Special Forces in October 2019 in Iraq may have moved the concentration of activity to Africa. However, Iraq remains a weak link in the fight against the group as the political impasse in the country continues which is exacerbated by sectarianism and Iranian influence. The Global Coalition against Daesh which was formed in 2014, and comprising 85 countries, is now attempting to stabilize Iraq by resettling refugees uprooted by the terror outfit.
Daesh also remains the wealthiest terrorist group, of any ideology, in the world, said Veryan. “From what they stole from the coffers of Iraq alone they can continue on for decades without needing another cent. But we all know their money is working for them in many legitimate businesses.” Back in 2014, it was reported that they were making $1 million daily from the illegal oil business in Iraq. They have now diversified like a conglomerate and are into kidnap-and-ransom in Africa.
The rank and file appear more dangerous as lone-wolf attacks seem to have run their course. Daesh 2.0 in Africa may also be inspired and emboldened by the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan after US troops made a hasty and disgraceful exit after two decades last year. The Taliban recently completed one year as a ruling government in Afghanistan after 20 years as rebels leading the resistance against Nato. While there is no clear link between Daesh and the Taliban, the events of the past year could be an inspiration for the group that has affiliates in Libya, Algeria, Egypt (Sinai Peninsula), West Africa (Lake Chad), the Sahel, Somalia, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to the International Center for Counter-terrorism, extremist violence in Africa since 2009 has seen a 17-fold increase. The think-tank said the group has conducted half of its claimed global operations in Africa in 2022.
Which begs the question: Is there a strategy to combat Daesh in Africa? The Global Coalition against Daesh is making a feeble attempt which is not enough, while the West sees the Russia-Ukraine conflict as the larger global problem. Besides, the strategy adopted in Iraq won’t work in Africa, which demands better coordination, and intelligence-sharing among African Union nations to target what is now a pan-Africa group.
While the West is not expected to intervene militarily with boots on the ground or air raids, they should consider arming African nations fighting the group. Daesh’s rout in Syria was thanks to Russian airstrikes and Iranian militia who saved the day for the Assad regime. Success in Africa against Daesh will depend on reorienting the anti-Daesh Coalition to counter the group’s strategy at the grassroots. This would include tracking terror activity and messaging on the ground and online while launching smaller, smarter, targeted offensives against the group and its affiliates.
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